Since the third edition rules for Dungeons and Dragons came out, I've been fascinated by the classes intended for use only by NPCs: the Adept, the Aristocrat, the Expert, the Warrior, and the Commoner. The problem is, they all suck. But do they have to?
Let's start with some theory. If you look at all the D&D classes, you have the ones who cast spells (mages and priests), the ones with special abilities (monk, ranger, paladin, barbarian), the ones who are skill monkeys (rogues, bards, rangers), and the one who is a feat monkey (the fighter).
Where among these modes is a place to enhance the NPC classes without being redundant, I asked myself, as I pondered an easy fix to make them less sucky. Well, you can't add spells to these classes without fundamentally changing what they are. And you could add special abilities tailored to each one -- for example, the Aristocrat might get special abilities in intimidation and leadership -- but that would hardly be an easy fix ... tough to invent all these new abilities, tough to keep balanced. Well, how about skills and feats?
Consider the skill monkeys. Among rogues, rangers, and bards, pretty much any set of skills you might desire is available to you. The ranger/rogue is the ultimate skill monkey. (Multiclassing the bard in general is more problematic.) So the entire range of skills is available to one or another of the skill monkeys. It would be hard to boost skill use in the NPC classes without being redundant. Besides, the Expert has the skill angle covered anyway.
So we come, in the end, to feats. The fighter is the ultimate feat monkey, but the class is limited to certain combat oriented feats to fill those bonus slots. And since fighters have crappy skills and no spells (the price paid for that sweet BAB), the wide range of spell- and skill-enhancing feats is useless to them, even if they could take them. So there is room, lots of room, for new feat monkeys in D&D.
Cayzle's NPC Adaptation Rule: If a player wants to use an NPC class, then the class gains a bonus feat, freely choosen from all feats, at every even level.
Ta da! This is easy, fast, simple, elegant, uses existing rules, and broadens the game in a way that the core classes do not. If I do say so myself. Let's look at each of the NPC classes in the light of this variant.
Adept: The Adept's spells per day progression is so execrable, especially at higher levels, that it is daunting. But the Adept has several neat things going for it. It is divine, so multiclassing a level of fighter gives sweet sweet access to every piece of armor in the book with no spell failure, plus some useful missile weapons. And despite the class's divinity, the spell list includes some potent combustibles. So you get healing magic, firepower, and full access to all spells as soon as you can cast them (no mussing with books or spells known). And, to get to the point of this screed, you can enjoy a luxury of feats that even the wizard cannot match. What that means is item creation feats galore, metamagic feats, Improved Familiar, Combat Casting, Spell Focus, Greater Spell Focus, and more -- all the feats that other spell casters can only drool over while getting sick and tired of the few they were able to afford. Plus, you can take a couple combat feats if it strikes your fancy ... maybe Point Blank Shot and Rapid Shot to go with that bow you picked up in Fighter Camp.
Expert and Aristocrat: These two have similar strengths -- decent attacks, skills, and good will saves. The Expert has better skills; the Aristocrat, better role-play/cultural advantages. Both use their bonus feats similarly: skill boosters and a selection of combat enhancers.
Warrior: The Warrior gets one less feat than the fighter (since fighters get a bonus feat at first level in addition to one at every even level). Choose the Warrior if you want flexibility. Maybe your Enforcer concept really needs the Persuasive and Skill Focus (Intimidate) feats, for example, in addition to Power Attack and Improved Sunder. You get more choice at the cost of a feat. Or multiclass fighter/warrior for the best of both worlds.
Commoner: Sorry, Commoner. You still suck, even with Cayzle's NPC Adaptation Rule. If you really want to be a Commoner who can hold his own among other classes, a balanced option might be to lard in special abilities in addition to bonus feats on even levels. What kind of special abilites? No penalties on using improvised weapons? Special bonuses with pitchforks and torches? Ability to be ignored in combat because you are beneath notice? Bonuses on Diplomacy and Bluff (from being good at shoveling bullshit)? I'll leave the development of those ideas as an exercise for the dirt-under-the-fingernail Commoner enthusiasts among my readers.
Another viewpoint [9 Oct 05] Like I said, a more labor intensive way to boost NPC classes is to add special abilities at every level. That's what Jim Davies has done. Check out his Web site for some examples of "PC-grade NPC classes."